Thursday, December 29, 2011

Babystepping into the New Year

I used to be a big goal setter, but as life's gotten more complicated, I've gotten to be more of a little goal-setter. I know a lot of people have followed the example of Ben Franklin or George Washington in the way they set their goals.  Not me.  I'm more like Bill Murray's character in What About Bob? I'm all about the babysteps because they work for me.  (Forget exercising for an hour four times a week--my goal is twenty minutes three times a week.) 

I like to start my New Year off with a tradition I borrowed from Cheryl Richardson, the famous life coach.  She tells her readers to write down all the stuff they accomplished in the past year, even the small stuff.  Lately, we've turned this into a family tradition where we all sit down together to help each other remember what we've accomplished.  It's always surprising how long the lists can become.  (Sometimes we remember more things to add the next day.)  This year, my list will include teaching my daughter to drive, posting a video on YouTube, buying a vacuum cleaner with a retractable cord, and taking my kids to the pool a lot this summer.  What have you accomplished this year?

There are very few goals that I set without achieving them.  That's why my husband doesn't want me to ever have a bucket list.  He's afraid I'll check off all the boxes then wonder why I haven't died yet.  Last year, I made four resolutions, and kept three out of four.  Which one didn't I keep?  Number one:  simplify. If anyone knows an easy way to simplify my life, please let me know. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

In the Bleak Midwinter

I've been noticing this Christmas that some of the Christmas carols are wonderful examples of writing.  This morning, for example, I thought a lot about the little town of Bethlehem's "dreamless sleep," a phrase that says so much about the hopeless little town.
One of my favorite carols is "In the Bleak Midwinter," by Christina Rossetti.  What a beautiful yet simple description of the nativity.  It's even more beautiful when Julie Andrews sings it. 

In the Bleak Midwinter
by Christina Rossetti

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him:  give my heart.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hiding Our Gifts

"There's absolutely no point to that Incredibles movie," my son said last night.  Maybe he said it just to irk me because it's my favorite Pixar movie.  Or maybe he's just not as intelligent as I thought he was.

The Incredibles family, like every family, has gifts and abilities that can bless other people.  But they're not using their gifts because people get mad at them, sue them, and criticize them.  Even worse, they've started to ignore their gifts and focus instead on their weaknesses.  Mom Incredible takes her flexibility for granted and focuses instead on her oversized bottom.  The kids are also sucked into this negative thinking.  Their gifts are overlooked and viewed negatively.

I asked my kids, "What if we decided to never try to help people because we might make someone mad?  What if I decided not to write anymore because some people don't like what I write?  What if we forget about all our abilities and only think about our weaknesses?"

Pretty soon my kids were coming up with ways we are just like the Incredibles family at the beginning of the movie.  There's a lot of negative thinking around us, and sometimes it's good to recognize it for what it is--a whole lot of poopoo that's just gonna drag us down and make us sad.

Christmas is a great time to remember the gifts we've already been given and to recognize the good in other people.

On a side note, I hid my son's birthday present and can't remember where I hid it, which is really a problem because it's his birthday--yikes. 

So here's my question for today:  Why are you hiding your gifts?   Or, if you prefer, where are you hiding your gifts?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Merry Christmas and Please Don't Kill Yourself

I've known for a long time that the holidays are a peak time for suicide.  That fact hit home again last week when we learned that a neighbor had ended his battle with depression in a terrible way.  I'm always sad when I hear someone has died, but it's even worse with suicide.  I feel sad and guilty.

I've always been a fan of the movie It's a Wonderful Life.  I think it's a beautiful anti-suicide story.  However, lately, I'm wondering what would happen if we changed the story a little.  What if George and Mary were divorced?  What if George had been out of work for several months or years?  What if George didn't come from a prominent family in his community?  What if George lived in a big city?  Would his life still be worth living?  Would people still come to help pay off his debts? Could we still find a long list of good things that happened because he was born?

I wish I could be an angel like Clarence to help all the George Baileys find answers to these questions, but I can't.  So I'll just say what I think:  Your life is worth living.  People still care about you.  These people may not be the same people that you wish would care about you; they may be different people than you are expecting.  You may have to look for them.  And they may not help you pay off your debts.  But, even if you're not a George Bailey handing out loans to your friends, you've done good things in your life and there are many people who benefit because you're alive.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Middle School Books I Love / Hate

My kids' school library got a huge load of discarded books from the public library, and I get to help "preview" them.  Basically that means that I read the first chapter and flip through the rest, looking for anything that might be inappropriate.  (Can I just say that I think I've found my new calling in life?  I love reading first chapters.) 

The books for elementary age kids are always great.  But the books for middle school readers are a bit spotty.  Here's what I love about some of the middle school readers:

  • Main characters from other cultures.   I think it's good for middle schoolers to see things from another culture's vantage point.
  •  Main characters who are trying to make the world better.  I read one book (Acceleration by Graham McNamee) about a teen who discovers a serial killer's diary.  Even though the book has violent elements and a few swear words, I like that the boy steps out of his selfish world to become a hero.  (I recommended it for grade 9 and up.)
Here's what I hated about some of the middle school readers:

  • Main characters who rebel against the rules and don't learn their lesson.  I read one book about a shoplifter who didn't feel guilty and never got caught.  That really bugged me because I know a lot  of  kids who've gotten caught shoplifting.  (And yes, I'm happy to report that I threw the book in my trash can, where it deserves to be.)  If you're writing for adolescents and you want to cover a subject like drugs or shoplifting, at least show the consequences.
  • Coming of Age stories written for an adult audience but marketed for teens.  Just because kids understand it doesn't mean they should be reading it.
Middle school is tough.  And books can be a great coping mechanism.  When I was that age, I was a huge fan of L.M. Montgomery's books (Anne of Green Gables, etc.)  What did you like to read in Middle School?

Book of Mormon 12 Day Christmas Reading

This is a scripture reading program for the twelve days leading up to Christmas.  We wrote it for our Relief Society sisters to use in their homes.  It includes short summaries about some of the prophets from the Book of Mormon who looked forward to the coming of Christ.  We also included the prophet Isaiah and Joseph Smith as well as our prophet and apostles today.  On the last day, we watched the movie The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd.
We designed this experience so that people could adapt it to their own needs.  Some may want to read only a few lines.  Others may want to read everything, including the scripture references.
Twelve Day Christmas Experience

Day 1:  Testimony of Isaiah       
The Prophet Isaiah lived over 700 years before Christ was born.   He foretold and testified of the Savior’s divine mission and birth.  He prophesied that even though our Savior would be perfect, He would be “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”  Isaiah bore testimony of the power of Christ’s atonement, saying “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes [or scars] we are healed.”
Isaiah also bore testimony of Christ’s power and priesthood.  He wrote that “his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
[Read Isaiah’s testimony in Isaiah 7:14-15, Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 53 (compare Mosiah 14). Listen to “For Unto Us a Child is Born” from Handel’s Messiah.]

Day 2:   Testimony of Nephi       

“but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah” (1 Ne 19:23).

Nephi, the first prophet who wrote in the Book of Mormon, prophesied of Christ to people in America. He said, "...we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ... that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins. ...there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ... whereby man can be saved.” (2 Ne 25:26).   Nephi saw in vision the Savior’s birth and ministry before and after the Lord’s Crucifixion. 

Many of Nephi's people believed his words. They trusted in the promise that Christ would come to visit their descendants. Their hearts were filled with gratitude for this loving Savior who would redeem them from their lost and fallen state, and they rejoiced as they came to rely on the goodness and merits of "him who is mighty to save.”.

[Read Nephi’s testimony in 1 Nephi 11:9-13; 1 Nephi 12:4-8.]